Kevin Mazur / Universal Pictures

(from left) Pete Davidson and director Judd Apatow with crew members on the set of The King of Staten Island.

June 11, 2020

The Power of Community in ‘The King of Staten Island’

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The King of Staten Island is not your typical Judd Apatow comedy. While Apatow wrote and directed comedy classics such as The 40-Year-Old Virgin and Knocked Up, the director has taken a more daring approach to this coming-of-age story.

Set in Staten Island (Apatow deems it “the land without visitors”), TKOSI is a drama about a young man, Scott (Pete Davidson), an alternate-universe version of Davidson who never found a passion in stand up comedy.

After enjoying a screening of the film, The Sun spoke to Apatow during a college newspaper roundtable interview.

The Sun asked Apatow: “What do you hope people will get out of your film during this time?”

Apatow responded: “I think that in addition to giving people a break, and making people happy, I like putting people through an emotional experience that makes them feel things that they might try to avoid most of the time. It is a movie about grief, about how a family gets over the loss of a parent.”

In the film, Scott’s firefighter father had long ago died in a hotel fire, a fictionalized version of the death of Davidson’s father on 9/11. Scott is deeply hurt and angered by the fact that his father would put himself in such danger, and he holds this against firefighters throughout the film.

“I feel like people don’t think much about heroes, those who are willing to sacrifice for them. We all move through the world, and we just assume these people will come help us — they’re taken for granted,” Apatow said.

Scott is stuck in his father’s loss, and as a result, bottles up his feelings. He often shirks his emotional responsibility in his relationships, including with his friend-with-benefits Kelsey (Bel Powley).

The film unhesitatingly delves into themes of mental illness with candor, as timely introduction as, during these tumultuous times, many are grappling with their own demons.

On mental health, Apatow remarked: “So many young people are dealing with it, in numbers much larger than when I was a kid. I hope that the movie is helpful in some way — because it is about how somebody gets more support, learns more about himself and evolves.”

In the film, Scott’s mom Margie (Marisa Tomei) falls in love with fireman Ray, with whom Scott has made a terrible impression. The two have a tense relationship, yet Ray and his fire department take Scott in when his mom kicks both men out for their fighting. One of the firemen, Papa (Steve Buscemi), describes a coked-up adventure he had with Scott’s dad, helping Scott to distance himself from his self-enforced pressure to live up to the unmatched heroism of his perfect father. As Scott gets to know the firemen who worked alongside his father, he gains a new perspective, and even a sense of closure, about his father’s sacrifice.

Pete Davidson as Scott Carlin in The King of Staten Island, directed by Judd Apatow.

Mary Cybulski / Universal Pictures

Pete Davidson as Scott Carlin in The King of Staten Island, directed by Judd Apatow.

TKOSI depicts how the support of a community can be healing. Today, the influence of the community is clearer than ever. Due to the power of the Black Lives Matter movement, people are challenging themselves to engage with their communities, to become better people and to become more aware of their actions.

Listening to the stories of the firemen and watching them work, Scott begins to better understand that his actions influence others — he is not an island. He realizes he wants to be kinder to his sister (Maude Apatow) and is more honest in his relationship with Kelsey.

A peer newspaper asked Apatow about how the creative process yielded such raw emotional performances. Apatow said that after months of rehearsals in L.A. and N.Y., “[the cast] did loosely improvised versions of the scenes; some of people’s favorite moments of the film came out of those loose moments.”

One particularly emotionally truthful moment of the film arose when Scott expresses his anger with his mom for falling for another firefighter; he cries out that the family should make space in their living room for mementos to honor Ray once he too dies in the line of duty. This scene rings true as essential workers, nurses and doctors sacrifice their safety for their country. TKOSI paints the emotion behind our gratitude.

Apatow explained how the film felt so real, saying: “It only worked because Pete was so willing to share.”

He continued: “Pete is a big-hearted guy, been through a lot; we’re all rooting for him because we all feel like him in some way. He’s so willing to talk about things that people want to keep hidden — that’s what people like about him.”

The film will be available on demand on June 12.


Emma Plowe is a freshman in the College of Arts and Sciences. She currently serves as Arts Editor on the 138th board. She can be reached at [email protected].